Scientists have applied to grow the UK’s first field trial of genetically-edited wheat at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire.
Researchers from Rothamsted and Bristol University used genome editing to develop the wheat which has been bred to reduce levels of the cancer-causing compound acrylamide – commonly found in toast.
The scientists are now preparing an application to the UK government to run a field trial of the wheat starting in the autumn. It would be the first such trial of genetically-edited wheat to be carried out anywhere in Europe.
The field trial will be led by Sarah Raffan, who used gene-editing to reduce the amount of asparagine in the wheat. She said: “Low asparagine wheat should lead to lower levels of acrylamide, which is good news for anyone who likes their toast well done.”
The CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technique involves the the deletion or insertion of short sections of DNA – or changes to the DNA sequence – in this instance halting the function of a gene involved in asparagine production.
Gene-editing is is different from genetic modification because it doesn’t involve the introduction of novel, foreign or additional genes. Scientists say it involves changes similar to those that occur naturally.
Project leader Nigel Halford said the wheat was still experimental. “It is essential we test the wheat in field trials to see how it performs, not only in terms of asparagine concentration but also yield, protein content and other quality and agronomic traits.”
If successful, the wheat could be made available to seed breeders. Prof Halford said it could take up to a decade before very low asparagine wheat started to appear on shop shelves – and then only if the regulatory framework was conducive to its development.